A London herbalist's blog on all things herbal medicine

natural-minded asked: How long for a passionflower tincture to be ready? Also would you use a solution or just vodka? Also for tinctures do you prefer a vodka

Passionflower tincture will take 2 weeks until its ready to strain. You can make a solution from vodka and alcohol at about 25-30%. Personally I use organic grain alcohol, but vodka is just as good. Good luck!

Anonymous asked: Hello, I was wondering if you make bespoke tinctures?

Yes I do, have a look at www.earthmedicines.co.uk for more information or send me an email at joe@earthmedicines.co.uk to discuss your requirements. Thanks

He who binds to himself a joy Does the winged life destroy; But he who kisses the joy as it flies Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.
Eternity by William Blake

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.

Eternity by William Blake

Aloe Vera - Cooling Fleshy Medicine!

Externally it has an excellent cooling and healing action and is commonly used on eczema, burns and any inflammed hot or red skin. 

When taken internally it is very cooling and is traditionally understood to eliminate toxic heat throughout the body.  Aloe Vera has been used throughout history as a purgative.  Anthraquinone constituents found mostly just under the skin of the plant are chiefly responsible for it’s purgative and laxative effects.  Most Aloe Vera juice preparations you find today use only the inner part of the leaf so the laxative effect is greatly reduced.

Mistletoe - Viscum album

An amazing plant that lives parastically in trees, extracting all the nutrients it needs from its host tree.  Although it is a parasitic plant, mistletoe has an important role to play in the ecosytem, especially for birds and animals.

Historically it has been a plant admired by many cultures and it has many traditions associated with it, such as hanging it up to welcome in the new year, kissing under mistletoe & also it was said that carrying mistltoe warded off epileptic fits.

There is some controversy about exactly how poisonous mistletoe is and recent research is revealing that it is not as deadly as once thought, although it is best not to take mistletoe unless under the guidance of a herbalist as it can be very toxic: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2877602

Mistletoe is used by herbalists for conditions affecting the nervous system, circulatory system & respiratory system and is most commonly used by modern herbalists as a nervine and as a component of treatment for high blood pressure.  Traditionally it has also been used to treat eplilepsy, cancer and heart failure.

To make a tincture of this plant I have used 400g of fresh leaves in 1300ml of solution.  In order to establish how strong the tincture will be I have measured the amount of water & alcohol used to calculate the alcohol percentage and total volume of the tincture.  In this case I have added 1040ml of vodka (40%) and 260ml of water, which means the solution is 32% alcohol.  I have also taken a sample of the mistletoe used (100g) and will dry it to use for tea.  When it is dried I will weigh it again to establish how much water was in the fresh mistletoe.  Using this information I can then calculate very accurately the amount of dried mistltoe in the tincture and also the amount of extra water (that was in the mistletoe) that went in.  This will help get the dosage right.

After 2 or 3 weeks of leaving the mistletoe in the alcohol I will strain the plant material out and the tincture will be complete!

If you try this recipe, please make sure you consult with a herbalist before trying any of the tincture as mistletoe can be extremely toxic.

Gnarled Oak

Gnarled Oak

Opium poppy - Natures painkiller

Opium poppy - Natures painkiller

Gnarled twisted ancient hawthorn trunk.  A tree that makes fantastic medicine for the heart.

Gnarled twisted ancient hawthorn trunk.  A tree that makes fantastic medicine for the heart.

Porcini mushroom found on Wimbledon common.

Porcini mushroom found on Wimbledon common.

Hoof Fungus - Fomes fomentarius

Hoof Fungus - Fomes fomentarius

Making an anti-inflammatory and cooling herbal cream

Here are some instructions to making a herbal cream.  In this case I was making a cream for inflammed and itchy skin, although many other herbal creams will be formulated similiarly to this one.  The general idea behind making a cream is to heat water and oil componenets along with an emulsifying wax so that they combine to form a cream, which is sort of half-way between an oil and a water.  This is a good guide for more information http://www.fromnaturewithlove.com/library/lotionmaking.asp.

  • Add 80ml (approximately) of boiling water to a pan with 1/2 a cup of chamomile in it.  Leave to brew for 10 minutes with a lid on.  Then drain the liquid through a sieve to remove fine particles.
  • Cut some aloe vera, about the size of two fingers.
  • Cut the aloe vera lengthways in half and push through a sieve.  Add this to the chamomile tea.
  • Add 90ml of herbal oils.  In this case i used chickweed oil to lessen itching and for its cooling effect and calendula oil for its anti-inflammatory and healing properties.
  • Add 15g of emulsifying wax and 7 grams of beeswax to the mix and heat in a bain-marie until all the ingrediants have melted.
  • Finally add 5-10 drops of lavender essential oil (for its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties) & 5 drops of chamomile essential oil (anti-inflammatory).  At this point you need to whisk it together and cool it down.  To do this I just fill the bain-marie with cold water and put the bowl back in.  Whisk the cream until it has cooled down significantly.
  • Store in a jar (as airtight as possible) & keep in the fridge.  The cream should last 1-3 months.  Should the oil and water separate at any point, simply re-whisk.
Blusher - Amanita rubescens
Edible but easily confused with other poisonous members of the Amanita family.  The flesh becomes pinky when bruised or exposed to air.  Another important identifying feature is the ridges on its ring, which the Panther cap (a toxic look-a-like) does not have.  If you are picking any mushrooms from the Amanita family make sure you know what you are doing and be 100% sure of a mushroom’s ID before you eat it.

Blusher - Amanita rubescens

Edible but easily confused with other poisonous members of the Amanita family.  The flesh becomes pinky when bruised or exposed to air.  Another important identifying feature is the ridges on its ring, which the Panther cap (a toxic look-a-like) does not have.  If you are picking any mushrooms from the Amanita family make sure you know what you are doing and be 100% sure of a mushroom’s ID before you eat it.

Rosebay willowherb in Autumn

Rosebay willowherb in Autumn

How to dry mushrooms

1) Firstly harvest your mushrooms, being carful not to disturb the mycelium network that lies beneath the fruiting body (in this case the mushroom was a 2kg maitake!)

2) Cut your mushrooms up into small pieces and position them infront of a fan and heater.  If they are dirty clean them using a clean toothbrush or dry cloth, avoid using water as this will make them much harder to dry.  Just using a fan on its own will work, but a heater ensures that the air is dry and warm and will greatly speed up the process.  Be careful of putting your mushrooms on tissue or newspaper as when the mushrooms dry the tissue will stick to them.  In the photos I have used pieces of untreated oak wood, although any clean surface should be ok.

Turn the mushrooms once or twice a day to ensure that all of the surfaces get a chance to be exposed to the warm dry air.

3) After a few days, or when the mushrooms seem almost dry, they will be ready to be put into a silica gel chamber.  This is an airtight container where you put the mushrooms in alongside (but not touching!) silica gel.  The silica gel absorbs many times its own weight in water and will extract the last of the water in your almost dry mushrooms.  I made the one in the picture by buying some silica gel off eBay for about £5 (ensure it is the kind that turns from orange when dry to green when wet, as other types of silica gel are toxic).  I also purchased this handy tub which came will a plastic grill from Ikea for about £5.  I then put four balls of tin foil in the four corners to raise the grill off the bed of silica gel.

4) Put your mushrooms on the grill and put the lid on the tub.   Leave for a few days and remove your mushrooms when they are cracker dry.  This means that when you bend them they will snap as they are so dry and brittle!